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2021 was easier, but problems persist for people with sight loss

The relaxation of covid restrictions has made life easier for blind and partially sighted people in 2021, but problems persist warns the country's leading sight loss charity.

The accessibility of covid lateral flow test-kits and eye clinic waiting times remain a worry, says RNIB Scotland, while the new emphasis on active travel has led to the introduction of more cycle-lanes and other changes to streets without adequate consultation.

Meanwhile, the elections for the Scottish Parliament last May revealed people with sight loss can still struggle to vote independently and in secret.

"The impact of the first covid lockdown hit blind and partially sighted people particularly hard," said the charity's director James Adams. "Worries about access to shopping and medication along with social isolation were a serious concern to many. RNIB Scotland worked very hard to mitigate these and support some of the most vulnerable in our society.

"If 2022 sees renewed restrictions we hope we are better prepared to cope with these.

"One immediate concern must be tackling the backlog of eye examinations. According to one report, there were 23 per cent fewer tests across the UK in 2020 compared to the previous year. Such examinations, which are free in Scotland, can detect the first signs of sight problems when there is still time to arrest or reverse adverse effects.

"Another challenge is the hurried redesign of streets throughout Scotland - rushed through as part of the Spaces for People initiative - that might inadvertently create new hazards for pedestrians with sight loss. These include cycle-lanes that cut between pavements and bus stops and 'shared spaces' where pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles all occupy the same flattened surface.

"The Scottish Parliament election in May again revealed the need for new ways that will allow people to vote without having to ask someone else to help them or even do it for them. Too often, the current aids have proved inadequate. We hope new methods currently being tested will allow blind and partially sighted people to vote confidently, independently and in secret."